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Published: Saturday, 10/15/2005

Remember these passwords




Many people use a dozen or more password-protected sites on the Internet in their lives at work, home, and in school. Remembering passwords and user names is one of the most frustrating everyday problems in the digital age.

With no standardized rules for content or length, a password that works on one site may not work on another. Some sites allow just letters, or instance, while others require combinations of letters and numbers.

Most computers do offer a helping hand. They display a little dialog box as you log onto a site. It asks if you want the computer to remember the password on the next visit. That s fine until you need to access a site from a different computer, or buy a new computer.

One common and risky solution is to carry around a list of passwords on a slip of paper in your wallet, purse, or backpack.

Loose that scrap of paper, and you re cut off from online sites, including banking and other sites where constant access is important.

My passwords and usernames used to be stored on digital paper in a PocketPC. About the size of a deck of playing cards, it has many features of a full-scale computer, including word processing and Internet access.

It seemed safe because the device itself is password-protected.

Then I realized that it allows only a 4-digit password, which is not very secure. That s not enough space for a pass-phrase, for instance, which is more secure.

People sometimes use the names of spouses, children, or family pets as their password because they are easy to remember.

Instead of William or Barbara, try a pass phrase like My two children are Barbara and William Smith mtcabaws. Even better, mix letters and other characters (m2cab@ws) and upper and lower case letters (M2caBaWS).

One solution to the password dilemma is to use a fingerprint reader, which digitizes your fingerprint. They re available inexpensively as a stand-alone pad that plugs into a USB outlet on your computer, and built into keyboards and mice. Check local stores or search for fingerprint reader on the Internet.

Another is password manager software.

These programs store all of your account information in an encrypted file. All you have to do is remember one password for that file. They display account information in a user-friendly hierarchical, or tree-like, pattern, with one branching off another.

Most also include a password generator, which automatically creates unique and highly secure passwords. You can specify the length and kids of characters to fit requirements of different online sites.

If you need those password away from home, look for software that will run from a USB drive, or keychain drive which many people use to carry data from one computer to another.

Two popular password managers are Password Agent (www.moonsoftware.com) and Any Password (www.romanlab.com). Trial or lite versions can be downloaded without charge.

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